Thursday, 12 April 2012

A Full Day of Birding!

Yesterday was a great day for both birds and mammals! Unfortunately only Brian and Ray were able to make it as Phil and Mike were busy preparing for other travels. Our first quest was an early morning search for Great Gray Owls and Spruce Grouse northwest of Calgary. We chose our route with good porcupine habitat in mind but once again, this species eluded us. Instead of porcupines however we came across four moose and later in the day we saw three more for a total of seven! Mule Deer and White-tailed Deer were also plentiful.

Once up in the Grand Valley Road area, the birding began to pick up. We missed the Spruce Grouse by about a half hour according to one fellow we met but we came across two Great Gray Owls. They were very obliging allowing us to get a number of good pictures, including some flight shots.

Great Gray Owl

Great Grays weren't the only reward along Grand Valley Road. We also came across two Northern Shrikes, two Townsend's Solitaires, a Northern Hawk Owl and even better, two Sandhill Cranes! We spent some more time driving north to Water Valley and beyond and found a third Great Gray and as we began to move east around mid morning we came across three Rusty Blackbirds, our first of the season in Alberta. These were a very nice surprise. One encounters this species all too seldom, especially northwest of Calgary.

Rusty Blackbird
 Believe it or not, a key objective for the day was to see a Deer Mouse! Yes - hard to believe, but if we're going to move our mammal count ahead, even Deer Mice become a target! Ray and his wife, Agnes, have run a Bluebird Trail in the Cremona area for more than thirty years. Every Spring when they check their nestboxes to be sure they're ready for a new season they find a handful of boxes that have been taken over by nesting Deer Mice. This year was no different and we checked out two such nests. The first was empty but the second held two adult mice as hoped!

The Nestbox...

....and the Deer Mouse
Wild Turkey
Flush with success, we drove south and east in the general direction of the Irrican Sloughs. Along the way we were amazed to spot a Wild Turkey! We've never had one in this area before. It ran across the road in front of us and sought cover in the long grass but not before Brian managed to get a quick photo. This is a new year bird for the team.  

 En route to Irricana we drove past Nier Lakes (still 90% ice-covered) where we added some ducks, geese and swans to our day list. East of Nier Lakes we began to encounter large flocks of Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs. For Ray, the Lapland Longspur was a good catchup species.

Lapland Longspur

The Irricana sloughs were almost entirely ice-free but our hope to encounter some waders didn't come to fruition! Killdeer was the only shorebird for the day. We did find this splendid looking male Ring-necked Pheasant however. The colouring on these birds really is amazing!

Ring-necked Pheasant
 These sloughs always yield some kind of birding reward and yesterday was no different. Blue-winged Teal was a new team year bird and we also found a Great-horned Owl on a nest with its mate standing guard nearby.

We returned home to Calgary well pleased with the day's results - but the day wasn't over yet! We set off again after supper to do some owling along the Sibbald Flats Road, in the Foothills west of Calgary. We drove straight to Sibbald Pond arriving about 9 P.M. and then worked our way back out to the Trans Canada Highway stopping and listening every kilometre or so. Our primary hope was for a Boreal Owl but once again, we found no evidence of this species. We did however hear a number of calling Saw Whet Owls and actually got to see one of them up close. Once again, Brian had his camera at the ready and the shot below is the result. This was a catchup species for Brian and I as Phil and Mike had it earlier in the year. It was our fourth owl species for the day!

Northern Saw Whet Owl
 We also heard Varied Thrush and spotted a Hooded Merganser bringing our day total to about 50 birds and 7 mammals including two new year birds, one new year mammal and a couple of catchup species.

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